September 8, 2009

Pressure on top

The experienced batsmen need to stand up and be counted if Sri Lanka are to get out of their one-day rut

The last two seasons have been good for us in Test cricket, and it shows in how we have moved up to the No. 2 spot. But we now move into an area of our game that has caused us concern in recent times and needs more focus.

Over the last year, we have been patchy and inconsistent in ODIs. That's the best way to put it. We have won matches, but at the same time we have lost many. Our No. 7 rank in the ICC ratings is a fair indicator of where we stand. When a team is not consistent and ruthless - we beat Pakistan 3-2, we probably should have beaten them by a bigger margin after having won the first three - it's difficult to move up the rankings.

Even at home we have won six and lost nine matches in the last year. We have had to bat under the lights at the R Premadasa Stadium more often than we would have liked - seven out of nine matches - but that can't be an excuse. A 6-9 is not a great performance at home. You do want to dominate at home and win everything. We haven't done that. As a team we need to take responsibility and fix areas that need to be fixed.

One of those, a very important one, is the top-order batting. Between me, Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya, we have only two centuries in the last year. The top order has to get the runs. We get to bat the most overs, and it's our responsibility to get the big scores and bat through the innings. We have had a few bad tours individually. During the first half of the year I wasn't doing well in one-day cricket, then Jayasuriya went through a bit of a lean period. Sangakkara has held on for a while, but it is disappointing that we haven't got the big hundreds.

It's been difficult for the youngsters coming in. Yes, they have taken their time. Yes, they haven't gone in and done really well, but we have to believe in them and have a lot of faith in their ability. They will soon gain experience and understand their games better.

To be fair to them, the combination in one-day cricket keeps changing, and they haven't got consistent runs. Chamara Kapugedera has been tested for quite some time, and now he has begun to get a regular place in the side. That's a comfortable position for him to be in. Thilina Kandamby has done pretty well in the A team, and now he too is getting a longer run in the senior team. Then there is Angelo Mathews coming up. We want them to have enough experience under their belts before we go into the 2011 World Cup. And while they wait to become fixtures in the XI, they have an inspiration not far away. Tillakaratne Dilshan got limited opportunities in the initial parts of his career, and spent a lot of time at Nos. 6 or 7. But he made those chances count. Dilshan is a different character. The way he bats, the amount of confidence he has in himself, is amazing. That is to do with the attitude, and that's something we try to encourage with these guys too - carry a lot of confidence. We would love Mathews to be that guy at No. 6 or 7. If he can be that player, a lot of our problems can be solved.

Our No. 7 rank in the ICC ratings is a fair indicator of where we stand. When a team is not consistent and ruthless, it's difficult to move up the rankings

But much of it comes down to the top order, where one of the top four has to bat through. The middle order has to handle things better in certain situations.

The positive for us has been our bowling, which has been consistent and has allowed us to use well the variations we have at our disposal.

A crucial area is our fielding, which hasn't been the greatest in the last six months, and that's something we are working hard at. We need to take those half-chances and make the close run-outs.

It is a bit frustrating that we have done so well in Tests and yet struggled in the shorter form. It's all about the mindset and approach. In Test cricket you have the time to play yourself in, settle in and go about things. One-day cricket is all about handling different situations. And we haven't handled those situations properly.

That said, we need to be confident. We need to remember that we won our last one-day series, against Pakistan, which is a fairly good opposition. In between we may have lost three Twenty20s, but it's a different game. In Twenty20, if you make a mistake, it's difficult for you to come back, which is what we did against Pakistan and New Zealand. The 50-over game is completely different. Even if you make a slight error, there is plenty of time to come back.

The approach is going to be totally different, and we will go in confidently despite the presence of strong opposition in the tri-series. We have realised over the last one-and-a-half months that New Zealand are a tough side, and India of course are the No. 2 side in the world, trying to move on to No. 1. This should be fairly good preparation for the Champions Trophy, where we hope to rediscover our knack of getting it together in big tournaments.

Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Teran on September 11, 2009, 22:41 GMT

    First , looking at this article, Mahela still thinks as he is the captain. He should realize he is not the captain but to deliver his job just concentrating on his batting. It's not decent to say in between the lines that Santh must make a decision about himself. In any angle Sanath is fit to play 2011 WC. Perhaps not as a regular opener, may be occasional opener and number 6 or 7 batsmen in the team. Reason for that is he is still capable of contributing big time to the team and mainly we do not have a good finisher at the end of the innings. A place in the national team is never to award to a youngster but to earn by a player. Selectors have introduced and tried more than 20 new players in the past two years but just one managed to score a 50.( Mathews). If Sangakara can assure Sanath that ' don't worry you are in the team until 2011 , all I need is just give your best game, ' he may get better results than saying ' I can't help if you don't perform in the next game' .

  • Kamlesh on September 11, 2009, 13:25 GMT

    Shantiratnam....please, both Tharanga and Warnapura arn't fit for the top spot. Has to be either Udawatte or Kapu for now. Tharanga just continues to fail every time he goes out there. Warnapura should only be there for TEST selections.

  • Ranga on September 11, 2009, 13:22 GMT

    I disagree with SHANTIRATNAM. A player should not be discriminated based on his age. Selection, even for senior players with high averages, must be completely based on performance. Batting and bowling averages is just an indication of players ability. It does not measure how well player applies at the moment, his current physical and mental condition, or whether he is genuinely thinking about the team. I think selectors should find a way to measure player's form (his performance in recently completed matches). Selection must be based on two sets of numbers: overall averages and recent averages. If Sanath can score 30 runs per game and take take 2 wickets per game with a decent average while fielding well until he is 50 years old and he wants to play, shouldn't he be playing for Sri Lanka?

  • Ajmal on September 11, 2009, 12:22 GMT

    Every one has the right to express his or her point of view. Some one has talked about WARNAPURA and UPUL THRANGA! I don't think so they have a solid and opening batsman's technique. There footwork is quite limited and at fast tracks they cant move their feet up to the mark. Santah has the quality to play at any kind of track with great zeal and command. He is a qualitative all rounder. He should play until his fitness allows him.

  • Ajanthan on September 11, 2009, 5:49 GMT

    The question is how ever capable Sanath is, do we need to have a player who has already hit 40? What's the cost of having Sanath knowing he will not be playing after two more years max. He might score a hundred in the next match, but the question is how many winning knocks he can play. What is it that he has not done for Sri Lanka cricket which is still holding him from retirenment. We must insert Upul Tharanga and give him 12 months to perform and come to speed. We need to insert Warnapura as the alternative choice.

  • Gayan on September 11, 2009, 4:04 GMT

    There's no alternative player to take on Sanath's role as a devastating batsman, yes Dilshan??? No I don think he can continue the same form for a longer period, Sanath should remain in the game until he decides to quit, when he comes to open the innings evbdy's expecting him to make a quick hundred but if he fails yes we r disappointed and looking to find players who can fit in his role but who is there to replace em? Can these strong looking players even hit a six without having to sweat that much??

  • Ajmal on September 10, 2009, 13:03 GMT

    Good review Mahela! I am not impressed by some of the above mentioned comments about SANATH! I think he is keeping himself super fit for the game. If he is having a bad patch in batting then what? He is picking up couple of important wickets and by the way look at the way how he is fielding. He needs to review his pull short and he should concentrate on his batting if he wants to prolong his career. No doubt he is not having many years for that. But he is a true sportsman.

  • c on September 9, 2009, 22:55 GMT

    Please go and take a very careful look at Mahela's and even Sanga's ODI records - Mahela averages less than Jaya and Sanga averages only few runs higher with both having very poor strike rates. These are supposed to be the two most experienced and thus should be performing better - this and the lack of performing youngsters is the real reason that Jaya is still playing. Jaya is highly inconsistent but will come off every now and then and will definitely win more games than Mahela even though he is over 40. He also contributes wiuth the ball and has still been taking wickets. One cannot count on Mahela to win a high pressure game with high run rate. Mahela was very determined to push Jaya out while he was captain and is talking as if SL's bad form is mainly due to Jaya - how about we drop Mahela from ODIs given the facts. Yes Jaya is well past his best but is there anyone out there apart from Dilshan (who is having a purple patch right now) who is truly better or performing better?

  • Rajinda on September 9, 2009, 16:54 GMT

    I think SL ODI batting order should not be a set one. It should be a fluid one with the ability to move a few players around depending on the situation. I don't know if Dillly is a good ODI opener. He is awesome in 20/20 but he needs to tone it down a bit, as ODI is a different form with a bit more time to play. If he can do that then he should open with a left hander like Upul Tharanga. If not he can come in a lower order as he did before, & Tharanga can open with Udawatte/Chandimal combo. If we lose an opener quickly within the first 5-7 overs, MJ should drop a spot & someone like Samaraweera should come in to stabalize & take the pressure off from MJ & Sanga. If the openers give a good stand MJ & Sanga can come in & freely play their shots, followed by Kapu/Samaraweera. Then it's Mathews/Maharoof. This leaves us with spots for 4 bowlers, 2 of whom can also bat. Kulasekara & Thushara. That's only my opinion, & I am not an expert.

  • Rajinda on September 9, 2009, 16:33 GMT

    Looks like many of U agree that Sanath's time is up. It is something lot of us knew for a while. Sana is the best we've had as an opener in ODI & his service, value HAS been immense. But like most SL players he doesn't know when to quit.. when he's on top! If he's dropped, he runs to politicians who intervene & get him in. He scores a century & then set for another 20+ games to fail. Fans & Sana dream of rejuvenating his glory days, but forget father time takes a toll on all of us. He may be physically fit, but the mental aspect, confidence, decisions do get effected. Ironically MJ knew this, but was accused 4 not backing seniors (Sana & Co) when he was the skipper. But now it's Sanga's burden & MJ suddenly looks like a genius to some of U! However I can guarantee that MJ or even Sanga won't hang around when their time's up. No one will have to bring "dummala" to get rid of them! They are both class acts all the way!

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